Only Time Will Tell

21st January 2009 (Last Updated January 21st, 2009 18:30)

As the economic slump deepens, hotel industry leaders face increasingly tough decisions about which way to turn. EHMA president Johanna Fragano shares her ideas on how to get through the tough times and emerge with success when brighter times arrive.

Only Time Will Tell

In these times of unprecedented financial turbulence, which is badly affecting the hospitality business as well as many others, we have all spent a lot of time evaluating ways to manage the crisis in order to safeguard the well-being of the companies we represent.

Those of us who manage hotels, whether leisure or business oriented, face the dilemmas of rate dumping or occupancy loss, maintaining service standards while containing costs, and investing in the future – or not – for now is one of the most critical moments we have ever had to confront. No one knows how long it will be before business returns to normal.

Now is the time for us to put into practice the theories about how to turn a problem into an opportunity that we learned at hotel or business management school.

In times of decline in customer spending, resulting in lower occupancy, we are faced with the need to look carefully at each aspect of our operation, cutting out unnecessary waste. We must use these distressing times to improve our product in such a way that we can be ready to welcome our clients back to perfectly managed and efficiently functioning hotels.

Strong management and leadership are required in order to work through this difficult period and take advantage of the upturn when it occurs, and now is a good time to share some thoughts on how we can achieve this.

“It is no use having illusions that everything is as usual. It is not.”

First and foremost we need to keep in touch with reality. It is no use having illusions that everything is as usual. Unfortunately it is not.

Next we need to separate what is vital from the little things we can do without. A prudent approach to capex and costs will protect cash flow and earnings.

We must be efficient in the use of our time. Deadlines must be respected and all employees have to understand that their duties must be done faster and better than before.

Unfortunately we cannot always win. We need to accept defeat sometimes and learn from these negative circumstances.

This will enable us to continuously improve our performance. The learning process goes on forever and each day we can do something better than we did it the day before.

In bad times, risks increase. It is those with courage and audacity who can hope to achieve success as a result of making daring decisions.

Cooperation with colleagues and competitors should be a priority. Facing difficulties together rather than against each other may seem impossible but it will pay off.

This can be a favourable time to optimise our professional knowledge: update technology; meet new people who can influence our business; and promote our hotels in new markets. Some economies are not in decline and many millions of people from emerging markets are ready to spend on travel and explore the world for the first time.

Concentrate on the highest professional ethics and increase emphasis on environmental matters. Credible sustainability criteria will represent big opportunities when tourism growth returns, and the savings in energy, water and waste management required to lower expenditure will go a long way towards saving our planet.

“It is those with courage and audacity who can hope for success.”

Never give up. Global rebalancing is slowly being corrected and we need to believe with confidence in a better tomorrow.

Whatever our political leanings or leadership duties, we cannot fail to be inspired by the US President-elect, who faces his enormous task with rare courage and optimism. Together we can attempt to regain the prosperity we have so far taken for granted.

We can develop a vision of where we are heading, set our goals, manage our time and develop the right attitude for success, even in times of economic meltdown.

As an optimistic colleague said to me recently: "It will pass – it always does." Those of us who have been in the industry for decades know this to be true.